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Can a Plea Deal be Reversed?

Posted by Sam Israels | Jun 06, 2024

Typically, after you plead guilty to a criminal offense in California, the terms of the agreement are binding, and you are not allowed to back out of the plea deal because you have changed your mind. Notably, however, there are limited situations where a plea bargain can be reversed in criminal cases recognized under California law.

For example, the district attorney may back out of the initial plea agreement. Perhaps they nullify the plea bargain because you violated a term of the plea agreement or you successfully brought a motion to withdraw a plea.

Can a Plea Deal be Reversed?
There are limited situations where a plea bargain can be reversed in criminal cases.

Penal Code 1018 PC is the statute allowing you to withdraw your plea of guilty or no contest upon showing good cause. Sometimes, the prosecutor wants out of a plea deal, but this must generally be done before you enter the plea in court and the court enters judgment.

However, some ethical guidelines discourage prosecutors from withdrawing from plea deals, but they are not typically followed. So, what are some of the main reasons someone would decide to make a plea deal with the prosecutor?

Sometimes, plea bargains in criminal cases are made to avoid the uncertainty of a jury trial, or the district attorney agrees to reduce the charges, such as a felony offense, down to a misdemeanor. Perhaps a plea deal will result in a favorable sentencing.

Suppose you're facing criminal charges, and the evidence against you is relatively solid. Your criminal defense lawyer might try to negotiate a plea deal. Sometimes, the prosecution might offer such a deal.

What is a Plea Deal?

Normally, in a plea deal, also called a "plea bargain," you agree to plead guilty to certain criminal charges in exchange for having other charges dropped or to receive a lighter sentence. Plea deals are made with the district attorney who filed the charges against you.

A plea deal is common and can also be an excellent defense to reduce the penalties you might receive if your case were to go to trial and you were convicted.

Generally, after you plead guilty to a criminal charge, the terms of the agreement are binding. You cannot withdraw from the plea deal because you change your mind.

However, as noted, there are a few situations when they might be reversed or nullified. The defendant, prosecutor, or judge can initiate the process of reversing the plea bargain. A plea agreement can be nullified in three ways. Let's review further below.

What is the Motion to Withdraw a Plea?

California Penal Code 1018 PC says, "Unless otherwise provided by law, every plea shall be entered or withdrawn by the defendant in open court.

Motion to Withdraw a Plea

A defendant who does not appear with counsel shall not enter a guilty plea to a felony for which the maximum punishment is death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, nor shall that plea be entered without the consent of the defendant's counsel.

No plea of guilty of a felony for which the maximum punishment is not death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole shall be accepted from any defendant who does not appear with counsel unless the court shall first fully inform him or her of the right to counsel and unless the court shall find that the defendant understands the right to counsel and freely waives it, and then only if the defendant has expressly stated in open court, to the court, that he or she does not wish to be represented by counsel.

If entry of judgment is suspended on the defendant's application at any time before judgment or within six months after an order granting probation is made, the court may. In the case of a defendant who appeared without counsel at the time of the plea, the court shall, for a good cause shown, permit the plea of guilty to be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty substituted.

Counsel may enter a guilty plea upon indictment or information against a corporation. This section shall be liberally construed to affect these objects and to promote justice."

How Can You File a Motion to Withdraw a Plea?

As noted, under Penal Code 1018 PC, you can withdraw a guilty or no-contest plea under specific conditions. It could be crucial if you entered a plea bargain without fully understanding the implications, under duress, or without competent legal representation.

To begin the process, you must file a motion to withdraw the plea, which requires demonstrating good cause, such as the following reasons:

  • You were not fully informed of the consequences of the plea deal.
  • You were not made aware that your rights were forfeited.
  • New evidence emerged that fundamentally alters the nature of the case.
  • New evidence suggests diminished culpability, which was not available or known at the time of the plea deal.
  • You felt compelled to plead guilty due to threats or promises.
  • The plea deal was entered under duress, coercion, or unjust pressure.
  • There was ineffective assistance of legal counsel.
  • Your lawyer failed to advise you of all the legal options competently.
  • Your lawyer failed to fully explain the ramifications of a plea.
  • You had a mental health condition that significantly impaired your ability to make a voluntary informed decision at the time of the plea bargain.

Generally., you can only file a motion to withdraw a plea before the court accepts your guilty plea or before the judge imposes a sentence, but there are exceptions.

For example, perhaps new evidence has been discovered that significantly impacts the criminal case. The court will then review the motion, considering whether the defendant has presented a valid reason for withdrawal and whether granting the motion would serve the interests of justice.

What Happens If the District Attorney Backs Out of the Deal?

In limited situations, the district attorney (prosecution) might decide to withdraw from a plea agreement, but this can only occur before the plea is entered and accepted in court.

It should be noted that it is uncommon for prosecutors to back out of a plea deal. The American Bar Association (ABA) considers it unethical once offered with a reasonable expectation of acceptance. Still, it can happen occasionally.

If so, the defense lawyer can negotiate a new plea deal or prepare to contest the charges at trial. Some of the common reasons a prosecutor might decide to back out of a plea deal include the following:

  • They believe you provided false information during negotiations.
  • A procedural error was made that made the plea deal invalid.
  • New evidence is found that significantly alters the case.
  • They believe that the plea deal no longer serves the interests of justice.

Suppose a plea bargain is reversed before it is finalized. The original charges will apply in that case, and the benefits offered will be forfeited. Unless your lawyer negotiates a new plea deal, you might face harsher penalties if you are found guilty at trial.

What Happens if a Judge Rules a Plea Deal Void?

A plea bargain deal is a contract between you and the district attorney that the criminal court enforces. Suppose you fail to follow the agreement in some manner. In that case, the judge can declare the plea deal void. Some of the most common violations of a plea deal include the following:

  • Failing a required drug or alcohol test.
  • Failing to appear at meetings ordered by the court.
  • Failing court-ordered community service obligations.
  • Committing a new crime.

If you enter into a plea deal with the district attorney but later violate the terms of the agreement, the judge can reverse the plea bargain.

Once a plea deal is made, it will outline the consequences if you violate any of the set terms and conditions. Violations of a plea bargain agreement can result in the following:

  • Reversal of the plea deal.
  • Warning only,
  • Fines and court costs ordered.
  • New sentencing terms.
  • Immediate incarceration.

If the plea bargain included a suspended jail sentence, the judge can impose that jail sentence as punishment for failing to follow the terms of the plea bargain.

Suppose you have a valid excuse for violating the terms of the plea bargain. In that case, the judge has the discretion to dismiss the violation. Contact our California criminal defense lawyers for more information. Cron, Israels & Stark has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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